Task 12 – Digital technology – Tool or Medium

is digital technology a tool or medium in our activity systems? Or both? Are we talking about just instruments or a specific form of societal activity? Is digital technology neutral, autonomous or far more than mere tools and instruments?

As formulated in the task itself, this “dilemma” has been mentioned rather explicitly or implicitly by many of our IMKE group at different times. So before going into the actual question on my own, I decided to take a look at the article provided by our facilitators. The article was written by G. Rückriem in 2003 and titled “Tool or Medium”. The article itself brings out very specific knowledge and thoughts on different aspects of this question, on which I will try to formulate my own understanding.

To start up, I really liked the idea brought up by the author that many of today’s appliances and technology isnt something that we cant live without. Like Gurjewitch (1978) or Judin (1984) put it about cars: „They are neither frameworks to any other existing technology nor historical paradigms of a whole epoch. In other words, they are not without alternatives, not unavoidable, not irreversible, not general and not universal.“ As far as my thoghts go, I totally agree with that statement. But as they moved on, I also agree that in some ways we cannot say so in characterising computer technology. They continue: „It is becoming more and more obvious that computer technology is in fact without any alternative, unavoidable, irreversible, general and even universal. It changes not only one specific concrete activity but revolutionizes the societal activity structure as a whole and the complete relations of activity and consciousness (that is the economic, social and psychic status of any tool available).“ Nowadays, everything that we do is somehow connected to computering devices and the digital technology behind it.

Therefore I do see the computer as a tool that is used for performing certain tasks and mechanising the surroundings to make society work better and more fluently. But if we look a bit deeper into the whole usage of digital technology there is a growing sign that it is acting as a medium also. The activity theory and media theory have different theoretical backgrounds, which also use different terms for the central concepts. Firstly ”tool” is a main concept of activity theory in our common understanding and secondly, “medium” is the central concept of media theory. Rückriem’s point was to see, if these two theories are compatible.

After going through both aspects, I seem to agree with the author, that both of these sides see digital technology as that concept, either tool or medium. And digital technology allows these theories to do that, because the development in the digital world have become so vast in the recent years, that we cannot, but see the technology as a part of ourselves in a way. It differs a lot, as do people, but the senses seem to adhere to technology now, in a way that one would have not thought of a machine or a program before.


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